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Why the Conflict Between Alternative and Traditional Medicine?

Pay a visit to a chiropractor, acupuncturist, or homeopathic physician and you are participating in what traditional medicine considers ‘alternative medicine’. In a perfect world, practitioners of traditional and alternative medicine would get along just fine and leave treatment decisions to patients. But this is not a perfect world. And so, there is a very real conflict between the alternative and traditional.

At the core of that conflict is the evidence that practitioners cite in support of their various practices. Traditionalists claim to make decisions based solely on verifiable, scientific evidence. Alternative practitioners claim to complement scientific evidence with equally valid anecdotal and historical evidence. Therein lies the sticking point.

Clinical Trials: All or Nothing

Traditional medicine, or Western medicine to be more specific, relies on the concept of clinical evidence. Before a drug, medical device, or therapy can be approved by regulators, it must undergo a series of clinical trials proving both safety and efficacy. In the eyes of Western practitioners, clinical trials are the official determiner of legitimate medicine.

While this all sounds well and good, clinical trials are not as reliable as so many people believe. Clinical trials can answer the safety question relatively accurately over time. Efficacy is an entirely different matter. Why? Because most traditional medicine is not curative. It focuses on symptom relief.

There is no cure for arthritis. There is no cure for asthma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, and on and on. In the absence of curative therapies, we are left to treat symptoms. That’s fine. But how symptoms are experienced is relative. The classic example is pain.

Managing Pain with Marijuana

Pain is one of the most relative symptoms in all medicine. There is no scientific way to measure it. The only way doctors can understand the severity of the patient’s pain is to ask the patient to rate it on a numerical scale. But rating pain is so arbitrary as to be meaningless.

These days, the hottest alternative treatment for chronic pain is marijuana. Millions of people use medical marijuana, and the number one complaint for which they use it is chronic pain. Yet there are questions as to its efficacy. The pain relief it offers could be due to the placebo effect.

A study released in 2022 suggests exactly that. But guess what? Previous studies have also shown that OTC pain relievers barely perform better than placebos. Yet no one in Western medicine criticizes the use of acetaminophen or ibuprofen as a pain reliever. If it works, it works.

At , patients come looking for medical marijuana to relieve their pain. Medical marijuana is considered alternative medicine. Yet if I were a betting man, I would say that noUtah dispensary Beehive Farmacyne of Beehive’s customers really care what traditionalists think. They just want to feel better.

Less Open to Criticism

Traditional practitioners do have a legitimate beef with their alternative counterparts: alternative medicine seems less open to criticism. Whether or not the complaint is true across the board is not clear. But my own experience writing for the medical cannabis industry suggests that many of the disciples of alternative medicine refuse to consider anything that might be in opposition to their beliefs and ideologies.

It is certainly fair to criticize traditional medicine. It doesn’t work as well as so many practitioners and researchers claim. But at the same time, alternative medicine should be open to criticism as well. The conflict between the two boils down to the reliability of the evidence. And whenever evidence is a question, there needs to be room for criticism.

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